Sunday, December 25, 2011

Flor'Easter: Day 2

Sorry, no pictures today.  No oven-fresh tales of adventure either.  Give me break, it's Christmas.

Instead, let me tell you about the time I was introduced to the Florida backcountry...and lived to tell about it.

It was about ten years ago when I was still in law school in Georgia.  I had driven down to Florida to visit someone enjoying the hospitality of the Florida correctional system.  Given that they didn't have clean sheets or a spare bed for me, I decided to find a place to camp for the night.  After studying the map, I picked out a bird sanctuary area at the mouth of the Suwanee river on the Gulf Coast.

Sao Paulo: Throw in a flea market and a car dealership and
you've got Daytona Beach.
I wasn't a stranger to Florida (or so I thought), as I had spent more than a handful of spring vacations visiting my grandparents in New Smyrna Beach on the east coast.  The time I spent there solidified my image of Florida as a tropical New Jersey.  Large condo developments interspersed with strip malls, golf courses and busy beaches.

So as I pulled off of Interstate 75 and headed for the Gulf Coast, I realized almost instantly I was not in Gramma's Florida anymore.  Here, in the armpit of Florida, the icy grip of commercial capitalism hadn't yet snuffed out the natural character.  Here the jungle was winning the battle.  Even before I reached the protected area of the preserve, the houses were huddled low and deep in the shadows of the forest.  The roads got rougher until I found myself driving along what was a glorified logging road through the preserve.  Eventually, I reached a large parking area near the beach and parked the car.  I threw my backpack over my shoulder and headed out onto the dunes for the night.

I had just finished setting up my tent behind the first row of dunes.  The wind was blowing hard off the ocean, pelting me with sand anytime I poked my head above the protective berm.  I sat in my camp chair munching on dinner (a granola bar) in the fading light, when some movement caught my eye.  Less than 30 yards from my camp I saw a group of animals moving in the brush.  As I focused, I could see the familiar curved back of a pig.  I was surrounded by feral pigs a/k/a blood thirsty wild boars.

"Boy, you got a real purty mouth."
While in hindsight they were probably harmless, as a born and bred Vermonter, I had zero experience with wild pigs.  I had only heard stories from my Grandfather who had hunted them in Germany.  The stories involved knives, jumping from trees and razor sharp tusks.

With only a foldable camp chair to defend myself, I decided to use the last light to pack up and find a flea bag hotel for the night.  Gladly, the only squealing that night came from my tires as I retreated back to the comforts of the Florida I knew.

As a Yankee the swampy jungle that confronted me was alien, confusing and a bit scary.  I was a stranger in a strange land and in the end the Florida backcountry won round one.

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